The ups and downs of mentoring at Rhodes

By Roxanne Daniels

Definition: Mentorship – It is a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person.


She sat nervously on the couch in the lounge. Her cousin was celebrating after having received her university results. She felt her breath being taken away and almost had the sensation of choking. Finally, a little blip on her cell phone was heard. She looked down, waiting for the either ‘do or die’ results. She began to scream, running around the house as she went. It had just become the best day of her life. This is Monde Soldati’s experience of finding out that she passed all her subjects in first at Rhodes in 2014. She is now in second year and is continuing with her Bachelor of Economics. Like any other first year, she was nervous about coming to Rhodes.

To deal with her nerves, Monde joined the Ncedana Mentorship Programme which was in its first year of running last year. “I wanted to join any support group possible, it was overwhelming coming to university,” says Monde. The programme runs in the first semester with three optional meetings being held after the mid year exams. The mentor meets with his/her mentees once a week in a highly confidential setting. They discuss the issues that come with being in first year. The first years are placed in groups with others who are in the same faculty; their mentors are senior students also from the same faculty of study.

The downside

Unfortunately Soldati did not have a good experience as a mentee. “It was weird, we didn’t meet up for three weeks to begin with and then we were all made to feel guilty as a result because everyone kept giving reasons for not being able to make it,” explains Monde. “We were all doing the same degree though, so we had similar time tables”. Monde also felt that the group she was part of simply sat and spoke about the same issues with the same overstated advice every meeting.

The benefits

While Monde feels she did not benefit from the programme, Kamogelo Mafokwana, studying a Bachelor of Science loved his experience of the programme last year. Mafokwana comes from Limpopo in a small, removed area. “I got to engage with people of different backgrounds and cultures that I’d never seen before. We became closer and we’re still in contact with each other even though my mentor is now studying masters in Stellenbosch,” Kamogelo reminisces.

Second year BSC student, Kamogelo Mafokwana benefitted greatly from the Ncedana Mentorship Programme offered to first years for the first time last year.

Second year BSC student, Kamogelo Mafokwana benefitted greatly from the Ncedana Mentorship Programme offered to first years for the first time last year.

Purpose to uplift

Cockcroft, who is passionate about the programme that previous Dean of Students Dr Vivian de Klerk spear-headed, pointed to the fact that the aim of the programme is to help first years to become independent. “The mentor is there to empower the mentee, not to be depended on more and more,” explains Cockcroft. Kamogelo is a prime example of this aim being fulfilled; “I settled better at Rhodes and my mentor really uplifted me and encouraged me to keep going. He pulled me together when I felt like giving up.” Kamogelo is now an academic representative in Cory House, with the desire to help others in the same way he was helped in his first year.

He pulled me together when I felt like giving up.

Positive changes

Even though Kamogelo had a positive experience, there have been suggestions for change to be implemented. Cockcroft finds evaluation and reflection very important and with any new venture, there will always be room for improvement. An online questionnaire for both mentors and mentees was set up last year and regular discussions among facilitators allowed refinements to be made as the programme went along. The first change is that Oppidans are now part of the programme and this year students are not grouped according to degree and place of residence, but only according to faculty. “So as to encourage healthy boundaries in mentor-mentee relationships, students are no longer matched by residence. Faculty is the central commonality,” explains Cockcroft.  There is now also a cut-off date in place, and first years this year have until the end of the first term to join. This is to ensure that disruption to the group dynamic does not happen during the year. “We also found that communication with the mentees to begin with was difficult, so this year we used the university’s bulk SMS system to contact the mentees. We also had a formal meet-up/introductory lunch at the beginning of the term, which was very valuable,” says Cockcroft. The lunch worked well to establish the first mentor/mentee connection and set up an opportunity for the first years to see all those involved in the programme. There is now a platform available for mentees who need to bring up any personal issues about mentors, who are accountable to the programme facilitators.

A call to join

Kamogelo ended the year off with the belief that he can now do anything he works at. His experience as a mentee in the programme enriched his university experience. Are you in first year? Maybe the programme could help you like it helped Kamogelo Mafokwana. For more information on how to join a mentoring group, visit this website or email Benita Bobo at



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s